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Race for magistrate in Pittston a busy one

Eight candidates are filling out the ballot for magistrate in the Pittston area, making the race an interesting one.
Yatesville, Luzerne County- The field is full. While most races for a magisterial district see two or three candidates, in the Pittston area, the ballot is filled with eight names, six of whom have cross-filed on both Democrat and Republican tickets.

"We want the public to understand who's running and the issues," said Chis McLaughlin of the League of Women Voters. "It gives them an opportunity to meet all the candidates, see them altogether and see who they choose to vote for."

Of the candidates observed at a forum sponsored by the local chapter of the league, and in order of which they spoke:

Attorney Alexandra Kokura said she would be a full-time magistrate, and not work externally as an attorney. Kokura listed her experience as as a special master in family court.

Attorney Qiana Murphy Lehman said she doesn't have political fame, and said she was asked why she would want to run for political office. A former assistant district attorney, Murphy Lehman is now in private practice.

James "Red" O'Brien has been a mayor, school director and a recorder of deeds. He said his common sense trait would make him a good fit for magistrate.

Attorney Art Bobbouine said he got a unique perspective on crime and justice when he exited law school and joined the sheriff's department. He's currently serving as prothonotary and clerk of courts.

Attorney Mark Singer says he was the first candidate to pledge full-time availability to police through the magistrate's office and said he would hold night court. Singer said he has 26 years of experience as an attorney.

Attorney Len Sanguedolce listed his experience in civil, criminal and traffic court. He said you need the right demeanor to be a magistrate and deal with neighbor disputes and referee battles in court.

Attorney Gerard Mecadon said he's been a lawyer for 22 years and his experience spans from harassment to homicide cases. He said he'd make values-based decisions.

Attorney Jeff Kulick tied in his hard work as a landscaper and compared it to the workload of a magistrate. He said he's a member of the bar in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Political Science Professor Dr. David Sosar said the number of candidates on the ballot will dilute the vote and make the race all the more personal.

"You split the vote tremendously in this," he said. "This will be a very divided vote. And the person who may be the most qualified, or the person who is thought most likely to win may not be the winner."

In Pennsylvania, candidates for magistrate are not required to be attorneys. In this race, O'Brien is the lone participant without a law degree. But, as McLaughlin with the League of Women Voters pointed out, that is not unusual. She could only name two magistrates in all of Luzerne County who had law degrees. Nominees who do not hold law degrees are then required to take a special course.

A magisterial seat is traditionally seen as part-time work. Sosar acknowledged that makes the job an attractive one.

"It's an $80,000 position," he said. "It's part time. I can do other things with it."

The magistrate has also been a stepping stone to loftier political office. The two previous magistrates in Pittston have moved on the Court of Common Pleas.

Primary Election Day is May 21.
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